When I call charlatans or brands out for their wellness wackiness, I’m pretty reserved about dropping names. No one has time to go through the legal process if we have an extra-testy or litigious target, and getting sued in general just kills my vibe. The main reason is that people who end up in my sights don’t deserve the free, extra attention they’d get.
Case in point, Dr. Mercola. I’ve been speaking about his content and claims with a number of my patients over the years (and more often recently), and weirdly enough, many don’t know who he is. That is a pleasant surprise!
If you’re unfamiliar, it’s time to get to know this special guy.
Today we’re going to talk about new action being taken against him and how what we “wellness influencers” say matters. From this, I hope the simple conclusion is made by you: this man, and many like him, aren’t deserving of your attention, and if we DO pay attention to him, we need to address our trust thresholds.
For once, a short rant. Because word count also matters.
Who is Dr. Mercola?
Dr. Mercola is an online “doctor” in title alone. He has a medical degree, but in my opinion, he has been practicing the opposite of medicine for years now. “First do no harm, unless you can get lots of money.”
He recommends tests, supplements, and protocols that constantly fall on the pseudoscience end of the spectrum. He makes outrageous, unfounded claims about supplements pretty much continuously. He hawks products that wouldn’t meet my Supplement Quality Standard, even IF the science existed to back up his claims. Which it often doesn’t.
He’s tussled with the FDA and the FTC in the past over his “cancer-curing” tanning beds. He’s a large voice in the anti-vaccine movement.
And recently, he’s been the biggest COV-IDiot out there. A definition, for those unfamiliar:
What’s Going on with Dr. Mercola and COVID?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Justice Catalyst Law, and the People’s Parity Project are asking the FDA and FTC to bring enforcement against Mercola due to his promotion of false claims, unstudied products, and general poor advice about treating or curing COVID-19.
We follow this Mercola guy on Instagram, as we do a number of others in the wellness space to keep our finger on the pulse of misinformation. It’s been a wild ride over the past few months with the “doctor.”
CSPI lays out a number of charges against Mercola and his COVID misinformation in their post, but I thought we’d aggregate them here:
- He claims “even a small amount of vitamin C” will reduce the risk of dying “even in the most severe cases”
- Vitamin D is on a list of supplements to “combat coronavirus”(Vitamin D is important, but no one with any ethics will say it will “combat coronavirus” as he has)
- He sells a test kit to figure out your Vitamin D levels (this is not FDA approved)
- He states “melatonin has been proven to decrease the risks of COVID-19 infection.” (It hasn’t, and we should be careful with melatonin)
- He says zinc is a “vastly underrated player in the COVID-19 pandemic”
- He sells air purifiers that “create ozone” and are used to treat COVID-19
- He makes a number of claims about 5G wireless signals and connects them to COVID-19
- He promotes a number of other supplements for COVID-19 cures, such as selenium, licorice, astaxanthin, NAC, prebiotics, probiotics, and sporebiotics (and of course, as we’ve said before: take no supplements for COVID as none help and SOME could even be problematic with COVID)
CSPI policy director will speak before a Senate subcommittee about Mercola and others who pose a danger by spreading misinformation during the pandemic. I’m very happy we have organizations such as these looking out for public health!
On first glance, this may seem offensive. Maybe the most it would get out of people is an eye rolling, “Oh, he’s one of those guys.” Some people may say, “well, I heard that Vitamin C is good for COVID…”
There’s a very basic law around supplements and how we speak about them. We’re not allowed to say that the prevent, treat, or cure any disease or condition. Violating this, and doing so flagrantly, normally shows a general disregard for the rules of the system you’re working in. I’m not naive, and I know many do it, but Mercola takes this to a whole new level.
You’ll see what I mean in a moment. It’s so disgusting that he deserves to be shut down completely, in my opinion.
I believe that Dr. Mercola has violated his oath as a doctor and the public’s trust by promoting these unfounded supplements and modalities. At the heart of it, he makes the three problems around COVID worse, not better.
The Three COVID Problems
If I were to simplify the three problems we have faced as COVID-endurers, it would be:
- Problem 1: Knowing what this thing really is and what’s best to do—right now
- Problem 2: How to Cope with COVID. The emotional toll of this that begins and ends with fear and uncertainty is weighing heavy on practically all of us
- Problem 3: Allowing ourselves to be manipulated by misinformation
It can’t be stated enough how I believe that Dr. Mercola has failed anyone who has seen or heard his COVID content:
- His advice on the virus, it’s properties, and our bodies response has been nearly all wrong.
- Dr. Mercola has perpetuated fear and thrown shade at experts trying to guide people safely.
- He’s been the source of and perpetuated misinformation to an unforgivable degree.
Case in point, the biggie:
On his podcast and his blog, Dr. Mercola recently advised people to intentionally contract COVID-19, saying that using his supplement recommendations, the exposure would result in stronger protection than the vaccine could.“So, scary as it may sound, the best thing is to get the infection, and have a strong immune system to defend against it so you won’t even display any symptoms.”-Dr. Mercola
No. Just No to All of It.
I hope I don’t have to waste any words describing how outrageous, immoral, and anti-science this claim is. Words like that should cause a strong visceral reaction and leave a bad taste in your mouth.
As it pertains to the concept of “I need to strengthen my immune system” or “I want to take these supplements so I have better chances,” I must remind you that none of that is based on any science.
Vitamin D, if suboptimal, seems to be correlated with poorer survival rates and more frequent respiratory infections. Mega-dosing D isn’t the answer, though.
We’ve debunked other vitamin claims thoroughly in our COVID content, but to reiterate my feelings:
- Yes, be very healthy! Climb the Wellness Pyramid and optimize your health
- That won’t guarantee anything, it seems, based on the available data. There are lots of healthy people dying, both young and old
- The best protections are mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent handwashing
- Engage in low-risk practices with low-risk people
Did He Have to Go There?
For all intents and purposes, Mercola has a successful business and a large audience. He could have, as so many other charlatans have, embraced the narrative that his supplements make you healthier, and if you’re healthier, that’s better for ANY infection that comes your way. Then, just throw up a little asterisk stating that COVID’s new, and he’s not guaranteeing you can protect yourself from COVID.
It’s simple, though not true. With that approach, he would still sell thousands of bottles of Vitamin C and zinc and more. I’ve been telling people NOT to bother and still have sold through all my stock multiple times over!
Instead, he says the most disgusting, unethical thing possible: he encourages people to infect themselves with the virus.
It is crazy dangerous to follow someone’s lead who makes claims like this. All roads lead to the fact that he’s just trying to make money in any way possible.
I believe he’s just a few steps away from Kanye-level clarity, where he’ll suggest we need to eat only so many marshmallows out of Lucky Charms, and he’ll sell a test to analyze the box for thetans or whatever.
Maybe the next move is for him to run for President.
Words Matter, Especially in Wellness
When you are in a position of authority, especially in the health and wellness space, your choice is to wield that power and trust to assist people through those problems, or to throw away your integrity and amplify them, hyping up and wearing down people to then offer your products, services, and informations as solutions to build them back up.
I think it was Tupac that said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Or Spider-Man. Both awesome dudes either way.
Dr. Mercola is one in a long line of people and businesses that choose to put profit over people. They hide under a casual ambiguousness of science and use legal loop-holes to dance around their responsibility.
You don’t have to go as far as to suggest someone should contract COVID to be a perpetrator of these crimes.
All of wellness and some of medicine can be ambiguous—up for interpretation. There are many among us that will be extra-super-liberal with both their read of the science AND their intentional ignorance to any evidence that goes against the most profitable path for them.
Misinformation manipulation in wellness is constant and subtle.
Words matter. I’ve made the mistake of referring to the wellness industry as the “natural products” industry, for example. When compared to “pharmaceutical drugs” as many supplement charlatans call them, “natural products” seem like the obvious, healthier choice. Heck, even the term “wellness” could be debated, based on plenty of evidence of supplement products and advice being potentially harmful.
They don’t say medicine because that connotates healing, health, and a type of magic (white magic, to be specific). They need to change the words to change your feelings about it and make THEM and their paradigm the obvious, better choice in your mind.
And so grows our bias.
Bit by bit, our mindset around what is “good” or “bad” grows. The machine works slowly. Those looking to tap into the bountiful market sing the same unfounded or ambiguous claims in unison.
It “seems” like the information is credible. It makes sense, right?
And we can’t trust “Pharma” or the establishment, because they lie, right
Then, when we are nervous, afraid, anxious, or in some pain, even the silliest conspiracy theories can soothe us – especially if we are mentally positioned to accept it more.
Dr. Mercola, in my opinion, is the extreme example of the problem with the wellness industry. He’s out on the fringe. The real problem is the messy middle, which has gotten so good at manipulating us into believing we need THEIR products or THEIR solutions.
I love supplements and I know true holistic care is the answer for living our best lives. We can’t confuse that sentiment with what the industry actually is providing us.
The Way Out, The Way Forward
I believe the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has taught me one valuable lesson: the systems and structures we had in place were horribly broken, yet functional under our usual circumstances.
Until the systems are torn down and rebuilt, we must proceed with more caution and awareness than we have ever had before.
We need to make rational, logical decisions. To do so, especially during this time, we need to think not once, but twice.
We live in an attention economy. Who we give our attention, and subsequently our trust, to matters most. Therefore, we need to get REAL good at vetting information and advice.
The fear that spreads with pandemics makes society frantic. We give up our agency too often, looking for someone to solve a problem for us, whether or not they’re the ones manufacturing the pain or problem themselves.
We cannot lose the ability to think for ourselves, forgetting to listen to what our own common sense is telling us.
Because so many people are out there making the same claims about supplements and the immune system, Dr. Mercola and those like him gain attention from people looking for that advice and information. Reasonable-sounding information based on half-science is a gateway towards unhealthy advice and misinformation.
The only answer we have is to take pause. We must be honest about the information informing our decisions. We have to understand how smooth the system is with its words, and how we can be manipulated with little effort.
Talk is cheap. Don’t overpay for hollow words.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth